Flemish School; St Francis of Assisi; Fairfax House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/st-francis-of-assisi-9869

Did you know that ST. Francis was not a priest? He was a deacon and a preacher. Yet, he organized religious orders, one for men, one for women and one for those who could not leave their families and responsibilities, referred to as a Third Order. And he placed a permanent custodial priory in Jerusalem to help guard the Holy Places.

As a young man, Pietro de Bernardone, called Francis by his family, felt called to imitate Christ’s life exactly, after being imprisoned for a year during a war with a neighboring town. He chose to embrace poverty as a life goal. The first thing he did was follow what he thought Jesus wanted of him. He rebuilt a crumbling chapel. Little did he realize, at that time, but he was to rebuild a crumbling Church. The men and women who joined him in the next few years, took up this goal.

His greatest love was the Eucharist and he wanted to share it with everyone.

Francis was so anxious to convert the world that he tried three times to get to Moslems and reason with them. In the late spring of 1212, he set out for Jerusalem, but was shipwrecked by a storm on the Dalmatian coast, forcing him to return to Italy. In 1213, Francis sailed for Morocco, but this time an illness forced him to break off his journey in Spain. He then returned to Italy. Two years later, he decided to try his hand in France. But the pope would not allow him. He was told he was still needed in Italy. In 1219, accompanied by another friar and hoping to convert the Sultan of Egypt or win martyrdom in the attempt, Francis went to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. A Crusader army had been encamped for over a year besieging the walled city of Damietta two miles (3.2 kilometers) upstream from the mouth of one of the main channels of the Nile. The Sultan received Francis graciously and allowed Francis to preach to the Muslims. This was without effect, and Francis returned unharmed to the Crusader camp.

The next year, Francis and his companion left Acre to sail back to Italy. During his stay in Egypt, Francis had gotten an infection of the eyelids, called trachoma, which gradually lead to his blindness over the next few years.

In 1224, in a vision, Francis received the stigmata in ecstasy, making him only the second man to ever receive them, after St. Paul. Suffering from these stigmata and from the trachoma, Francis received care in several cities (SienaCortonaNocera) to no avail. In the end, he was brought back to a hut next to the Porziuncola. Here, in the place where the Franciscan movement began, and feeling that the end of his life was approaching, he spent his last days dictating his spiritual testament.

Francis died 3 October 1226, about age 44. He was canonized by his protector and sponsor, Pope Gregory IX within two years.

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